Odds & Ends: To Kill a Mockingbird Edition


I did not get around to reading To Kill a Mockingbird this month for the Reading to Know Bookclub.  However, I did want to share a few pictures I took of TKM-related “stuff” when we took a field trip to the Alabama Archives in Montgomery back in August.  I’ve been meaning for oh, about four months now to share pictures from that trip because it was so good, but for now these few pictures will have to do.


This movie poster caught my eye in the children’s hands-on room in the Archives.  I just love Gregory Peck as Atticus, don’t you?

At the entrance and exit to the Alabama Voices portion of the Archives, there is this really neat wall of pictures of famous Alabamians.  Do you see Harper Lee?



There she is!

DSC_0136Outside the Archives is a huge map of Alabama.

DSC_0162I was just so tickled to see To Kill a Mockingbird on the map!


We have friends who recently moved to Monroeville.  Maybe now we’ll actually get down there for a visit!  :-)

Harper Lee’s sister, Alice Lee, passed away last month at the age of 103.  This article about her by Alabama historian Wayne Flynt is particularly touching.

If you’re interested in Harper Lee’s life and how she came to write her one-and-only novel, I recommend Mockingbird:  A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields.

In this post I link up quite a few really neat To Kill a Mockingbird resources.

I shared a few favorite quotes here and here.



What I read in 2014 and top picks

That total of thirty-six books (plus a few more nonfiction titles I didn’t record as I dipped into and out of them over the summer) is the fewest I’ve had in a while.  As always, it’s been a heavy-on-the-fiction year.  Reading and reviewing have been struggles for me this year; I’m busier now than ever before.  Plus, I no longer have a nursing toddler, so that little bit of downtime I used to have is no more.  :-(    Of course, I’m not counting the read-alouds I shared with my children.  Next week I’ll share those, and on Thursday, January 1, I’ll put up a Read Aloud Thursday linky for you to share your own lists.  

As far as favorites from the year go, I can say that I’m happy that I’ve read more classics (and even a few from my Classics Club list!) than usual.  This is mostly because of my IRL bookclub.  I’ve also learned something about myself:  I dislike re-reading books, even books I love.  (Jane Eyre is what I’m thinking of here.)  Actually, I’m not sure that I really dislike re-reading books; I think the opposite might even be true.  I think it’s just that at this point in my life I very little quiet time that reading a hefty tome requires, and when it’s one I’ve read before, I grow impatient to get to something new-to-me (and easier to read!)  That’s my reading confession of the year.  :-)

As far as favorites go, I’m not going to overthink this or even quantify it.  I’m just going to go with my off-the-cuff reactions.  In no particular order (well, actually, in the order in which I read them ;-) ), these are my top picks of 2014:

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein.  Such a complex, compelling, and heartbreaking story.
Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson.  Sherry recommended this one to me last year, and I’m so glad I read it.  Delightful!
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken.  Suspenseful, entertaining, and well-written children’s book I had meant to read for a long time.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.  I didn’t review it, but I shared quotes here and here.  Aside from just being proud of myself for reading the whole thing,  I am pleased to say that I enjoyed this one quite a lot.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.  This was my favorite fiction read of the year.  I just love this story.

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi.  I never wrote a proper review of this one, though I did share some of my thoughts about it here.  This is one of those books that I devoured, and the end of it really gave me some things to consider.


The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt.  I’m two-for-two now with Schmidt; one of his books made my 2012 top picks list.

Revolution by Deborah Wiles.  This was my first documentary novel, but it won’t be my last.

There you have it: my top picks of the year.  Have you read any of these?  What did you think?

If you’ve shared your 2014 books list or top picks, leave me a link.  I’d love to read yours!

More Melendy Christmas, Carthage, NY, 1940s

I shared a bit from Spiderweb for Two by Elizabeth Enright last week,  but it’s too good not to share more.

On Christmas Eve the snow was still thick on the ground, but the sky was clear and starry.  The Melendys, at Father’s suggestion, had borrowed back the team of work horses, Jess and Damon, from Mr. Addison.  They also borrowed the big old-fashioned hauling-sleigh from his barn, and two of children, Daphne and Dave, to help with the singing.  Cuffy and Mrs. Oliphant refused to be lured away from the warm bright house.  “We’ll stay at home and welcome Santa Claus,” said Mrs. Oliphant, busily tacking stockings on the mantel.  “It’s years since I’ve met an attractive man of my own age.”

Willy drove the sleigh and Father perched beside him on the driver’s seat, but the children sat in back of them snuggled into the deep straw that filled the boxlike sleigh.

“I feel as if I were Louisa M. Alcott,” Randy said happily.

“I feel as if I were the Countess Natasha Rostova,” said Mona.  “In War and Peace.  Russian.  By Leo Tolstoy.  A classic.”

The sleigh bells chimed and jingled sweetly.  Jess and Damon jogged comfortably along the fluffy roads, and there were so many stars in the sky that Oliver said, “Aren’t there more of them than usual tonight? Maybe they add some extra ones on Christmas Eve.  To celebrate.” (126-27)

If you’ve never read The Melendy Quartet, you must!  Put them on your list for 2015.

Merry Christmas!  :-)


Christmas Circle Time

Yes, I realize it’s a bit late in the season to be sharing our Christmas Circle Time plans, but my blog is my most reliable form of memory keeping, so this is more for my benefit than anyone else’s.  :-)

This year I tried to really streamline what we did.  I tend to be an extreme over-planner, so I’m trying to rein in my expectations.

  • This year instead of learning one Christmas carol, I decided to use Mary’s Christmas carol SQUILT lessons, and this was a delightful addition to our Circle Time
  • We read Luke 2: 1-40 in the KJV each Circle Time.  My goal here is that eventually my children will have it committed to memory just be hearing it so often.
  • This year we memorized “In the Bleak Midwinter” by Christina Rossetti.  What a beautiful poem!
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.


  • We also opened our daily book(s) from our Christmas book basket, as well as read a couple of chapter books.  All of this didn’t happen during our Circle Time, of course.  I hope to share more about the books after Christmas.

That’s it.  We averaged three Circle Times a week, I’d guess.  Some things–like the book basket–we did daily, even on some weekend days.  I think this is my favorite part of our Christmas traditions.

New Christmas books in our basket


As has been our tradition since the girls were babies, we’ve added a few new books to our Christmas book basket this year.
We’re huge Little Blue Truck fans here at the House of Hope, so I knew we had to add this one to our collection.  I do believe this one is my favorite of all!  In addition to being a fun, rhyming story, Little Blue Truck’s Christmas by Alice Schertle is also a counting story.  Little Blue Truck goes to the Christmas tree farm to pick up Christmas trees for his friends, but the question is how many trees can Little Blue carry?  The Christmas trees are all tagged and numbered, and the DLM has to carefully count each tree, reading each tag, every time we read the book.  The personalities of each of the animal characters in the story shine through, and the book even contains a bit of subtle humor and clever nods to other stories.  (For example, the pigs in the story live in a brick house.)  My favorite are the goats who live on a series of elevated platforms and use a pulley system to raise their tree, delivered by Blue, to the upper platform.  The last opening has Little Blue delivering his own tree to the home he shares with the Big Green Toad, and lo and behold, this tree actually lights up!  I’m usually not a huge fan of books that require batteries, but my little boys are convincing me that sometimes such technological enhancements can be a good thing.  ;-)  Add this excitement to Benny’s exuberant “Beep, Beep, Beep!” at the end of the book, and we have a real winner.  Jill McElmurry’s illustrations give this book a timeless feel that makes it a wonderful, new addition to our book basket.  Highly Recommended.  (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski is one of those books I’ve seen around for a long, long time.  I even watched the movie years ago and enjoyed it.  I picked up a hardback copy up at Goodwill sometime during the past year, and I’m glad I did.  It’s a highly sentimental story, but sometimes that’s just the thing at Christmas.  If you don’t know the plot, it might best be summed up this way:  lonely widowed mother and son befriend a crochety neighbor who has a sad secret of his own, and a miracle of love and healing takes place just in time for Christmas.  P.J. Lynch‘s illustrations are lovely and perfectly fitting for the tale.  (Candlewick, 1995)  We also added the movie to our Christmas collection because how could we not watch the movie after reading the book?

We have also added a couple of books related to the real story of Christmas this year.

The first was a gift for our basket from Nana:  The First Christmas Night by Keith Christopher.  This is a retelling in rhyme modeled on Moore’s “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”  The First Christmas Night begins

‘Twas the very first Christmas

when all through the town

not a creature was stirring–

there was not a sound.

The moon, shining bright

in the heavens so high,

gave the luster of midday

to the Bethlehem sky.

The story unfolds and includes the shepherds and wise men, and concludes with a statement of fact:  “Jesus was born on the first Christmas night!”  This is a simple book wih lovely illustrations by Christine Kornacki.  If you’re looking for a simple, only minimally embellished retelling of the Christmas story, this is a good one.  (Ideals Children’s Books, 2013)

The other story, also a Goodwill find, is not so much a retelling as it is commentary and explanation of the real Christmas story.  The Very First Christmas by Paul L. Maier is the story of a little boy named Christopher who wants only “stories about real people and real things that really happened” from his mother at bedtime.  She then tells him the Christmas story from Luke 2 and answers his 8 year old questions:  why December 25?  Were Mary and Joseph royalty?   How did Luke learn the story of Jesus’ birth? This is an excellent book to handle the nitty-gritty questions of the Nativity, especially in the midst of so many Christmas fantasy stories. Francisco Ordaz‘s illustrations add visual interest to a very thoughtful and thought-provoking book.  Highly Recommended.  (Concordia, 1998)
The children will have a copy of Silver Packages:  An Appalachian Christmas Story by Cynthia Rylant to open tomorrow at our Christmas Eve brunch.  I purchased this on Alice’s recommendation, and I look forward to sharing it with them.

We’ve also been reading chapter books this Christmas, and I hope to share more about those in the next week or so.  Books are a huge part of our Christmas celebration.

Have you read any new or new-to-you Christmas books this year?  I’d love to hear about them!